Last week, I was lucky enough to spend 7 days revising a manuscript at the Highlights Foundation Whole Non-fiction Manuscript Revision Workshop. The Highlights Foundation is located just outside of Honesdale, Pennsylvania; they regularly offer workshops for writers of all genres. I took my 19 month old son and my mother came along to watch him while I worked. (Family has been an essential strategy for me in keeping my writing going. While neither my mother nor my mother-in-law live nearby, they have both travelled to watch Nesta while I worked.)
This post is kind of a plug for the Highlights Foundation. The reason I’m plugging them has everything to do with my role as a writer and a mother. When they accepted me into the Non-fiction workshop, I wrote to ask if it was okay for me to bring my son and my mother as babysitter. I’ll admit, I assumed that I would hear something like, “Oh, sooooorrryyy, we are not equipped to deal with your family as well as you. We hope you can still come but you’ll need to leave your son behind.”
I didn’t hear anything of the kind. First I got an email, saying, “Bring your family and work hard and don’t worry about it.” Then when we arrived, my mother, my son, and I were greeted by the director with a warm hello and a, “So this little guy is going to help me in the garden?” Throughout our stay, every single person at Highlights was kind, thoughtful, and welcoming of my son and my mother. I had brought a car so that my mom could take Nesta to town or for excursions but he ended up being happy playing in the sandpile in front of our cabin. We did find that it was best for my mom and Nesta to take their meals in their room rather than join everybody–it was harder for me to have conversations with the other writers if he was around and wanting my attention.
As parents who write, we often feel like we have to separate our parent identity from our writer identity. We assume that this or that conference or writing workshop or other writer activity won’t work for us because our children are too young or too gregarious. We assume that our writer side is welcome but our parent side is not. We assume that people are fine if we writers have children but it’s more polite to hide them. But I think we should stop assuming and start asking. While I doubt Breadloaf will be welcoming writers with small children anytime soon, I could be wrong. In fact, maybe they have in the past….I’d love to hear otherwise.